Thursday, September 24, 2015


I want my business to flow like I want my life to flow, and for this I need systems. I spend a lot of time analyzing what I do, how I do it, where I do it, when I feel like doing it, and when I avoid it. After nearly two years of observing myself, I can see certain patterns, allowing me to engineer my use of time and space in a way that feels productive, flexible, and full of ease.

My work is split between three spaces, each of which has finally begun to reveal its identity. I've realized what I want to do in each place, what works given the unique layouts and constraints, what definitely doesn't work.

My studio at my mom's house is my alone space. There I can dive deep in my ideas, experiment with materials, get lost in my projects. It's also a space where I measure very, very precisely and hopefully cut only once. It's where I solder and make noise and use power tools. This has been a shared space for the last three years, and in the new year it will be all mine for the first time. I plan to rearrange a little and put in a painting area and an enameling area. I'm excited.

My gallery is where I put on my public face, at least during the hours I've committed to being regularly open. I've recently started spending more time in this space in off-hours, which feels good and allows me to let my hair down and relax into just being present. The gallery has often felt stressful, and over the last two years I've started to understand why that is, and how to overcome it.

I have a carefully controlled presentation to the public, an experience that I want people to have when they come in here. This requires discipline and procedures and lots and lots of tweaking of details. So much goes into creating the space I envision, and I'm constantly rearranging. I've recognized the cycle, at least: I'll put out new work, agonize because it all looks horrible the way it's displayed, feel like I don't have any of the right props or surfaces or labels, then make a brilliant adjustment that brings all the jewelry and paintings and found objects together, then feel super satisfied for about two weeks, then start to think the displays look bad, feel the need to drastically rearrange, then repeat the cycle but with a slightly different mix of pieces.

I often feel dissatisfied with the way my work looks in the gallery, which I know seems bizarre because the space itself is always beautiful. But there's always something that doesn't fit right, or needs to be regrouped, or on a larger background, or explained in a different way. I think a lot about iterations. Dozens of different ways of categorizing, classifying, presenting, and narrating my work. With each iteration I understand more about myself, about what I'm doing.

The logistical side of this constant re-visioning and re-arranging is a nightmare. Holes drilled, walls patched, paint touched up, lights adjusted, displays built, props corralled in bins, mannequins and busts acquired, aluminum maps stacked, supplies sorted, labels printed, stuff hauled back and forth and back and forth. Thus I am obsessed with how to make it flow easy, this eternal doing and undoing of my space.

Furthermore, I have the opportunity to work with two young women artists as assistant/interns, which means I need to have good storage systems and policies and procedures in place, because if it's hard with one person it quickly turns to chaos when there are more hands and heads involved. Not just the logistical stuff, but thinking about the experience and the identity of my space: how to greet people when they walk in, what kind of values I want to transmit, how to operate in my absence. It's a lot. Training people is hard, because to do it right you have to know what YOU want, which in my case has not only taken a while but is ever-changing. Being able to be flexible and dynamic is a must.

When I first opened the gallery, I thought I'd do a certain kind of work at my front desk and jeweler's bench. I've finally learned what it is I actually want to do here, and what doesn't work at all. I need to do tasks that are conducive to interruption and pauses. Sketching works well, as does administrative stuff.

Other things seemed better in theory than in reality. For example, I started with a huge monitor in the gallery to be able to do photo editing and website updates in here. What I didn't anticipate was the size of the screen, coupled with the glare from the sun hitting the cars parked across the street, giving me migraines. Also the screen blocked my view of the front door. And I realized that when I work on my website, I'm deep in thought trying to build my site in a way that makes sense and write succinct copy. Any interruption totally takes me out of the zone, and I forget what exactly I was doing and what page needed updating. So that was out. I took my monitor home, and now do photo editing and website updates from there.

Which brings me to my final workspace, in our house, in a shared office with Ricardo. That's where I do my accounting, and my emails, and anything that benefits from a huge computer screen. It's a pain to have my functions/papers/things split among three spaces, but the reality is that I often feel like staying home but also need to work a bit. So if I can work a little from home as well as my studio and my gallery, I'm able to stay on top of things better. And there's nothing quite as nice as rolling out of bed, getting some coffee, and knocking out five things on the computer while still wearing pajamas.

The habits from my days as a freelance consultant die hard, I guess.

Monday, September 21, 2015


The compass, a tool for finding the way no matter how lost one might feel. Its imagery shows up in my life a lot...from my business logo to my tattoo to the pattern in the first faceted stone I ever cut (pictured above). A reminder to stay true to my internal North.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Freeform Patterns

Ali Amaro, freeform vibrant colors floral geometric pattern in gouache

I love painting multi-layered patterns with no plan other than to mix some colors and be loose. No overthinking allowed. No worries about how ruined or unattractive my expression might become. Every brush stroke will take me exactly where I need to go, so I just lay down the colors and shapes and enjoy the surprises that emerge.

I've been designing patterns my whole life, so by this point I know how to engineer a pleasing result. But that's not what interests me per se, so a lot of this exercise is about finding ways to move beyond the predictable and into whatever exists beyond the prettiness.

Ali Amaro. Pink plaid floral pattern in gouache.

Above is an example of a pattern that went somewhere new for me, away from the Marimekko/tropical/floral aesthetic that is my first language. It started out looking like a giant abacus, then got some florals and geometry, then got way too messy with too much going on, so I wiped all over the entire surface with a big, dry brush. Finally I drew a vine/chain pattern over the plaid with a light hand.

This blurry, pink plaid is exciting to me because it represents a new strategy to explore: make a pattern, then blend everything together. Lose the details. Throw a layer of fog over what once was clear. The results will be softer and quieter than my usual frequência operacional, I imagine.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Groove Back

What have I been up to lately? Oh, you know, finding my fabulousness again.

Sometime around February things began to shift. After many years of not feeling like myself deep down, I was ready to reconnect with ME.

I started painting (something I've wanted to do for-ever), allowing myself the pleasure of creating spontaneous worlds of color. For all the fun of abstract painting, I've also been drawn to the insane technical challenge of representational painting. Still lives and even a portrait. Really what I need to do is practice drawing - learn how to lay a good foundation for the color and volume that come next. I so struggle with lines and perspective. But that challenge is a big part of what keeps me coming back.

I made some ballsy custom jewelry that threw me way outside my comfort zone but also showed me I can be confident in my work. This necklace has 23 repurposed diamonds from my client's mother's wedding band, set in 18k gold in a field of blue enamel. Technically this was a major challenge, but I did it!

I decided it was high time to get the tattoo I'd been thinking about for the last few years, and now have my personal map on my back. It's a mash-up of the places that are/were home: Casa Cali, Maputo, Austin, Albuquerque, Rio, Peci (Italy). Six dots, lots of geography, lots of living.

I also cleaned up my eating and drinking habits and lost 10+ pounds in 3 months. What was the trick? An app called MyFitnessPal where you can log foods and exercise. Well, that and finally dealing with some emotional/personal stuff that I'd been desperately avoiding for the past ten years or so. Ten and ten. Lots of weighty stuff. Ha, ha.

I've been going to Hipline (the dance studio in Oakland I love so much) a lot, as usual. And doing pilates, and running. And I even started swimming at the Plunge (lovely pool by our house) on Tuesdays at 6:15am. I feel so good, I'm on my way to a six-pack, and my thigh-waist proportions are less drastic which means I can wear pants again without feeling like I'm being squeezed to death.

Speaking of, I recently held a snake for the first time (well, the tail end of my friend Emi's ball python) but even so - major phobia overcoming right there! I thought I'd be brave enough to hold the whole snake, even wrap it around my neck, but there was no way that was going to happen. I was pretty proud of getting this far given my history.

It's good to be back.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Power Rings

mozambican ametrine and 18k gold custom power ring by ali amaro
Mozambican ametrine and 18k gold power ring.
Over the last year I've been making power rings for women. Large gemstones, minimal settings, lots of personal significance. There's something magnetic when a person finds the right stone at the right time. There is an energy that makes you never want to take it off your finger. 

blue topaz and gold custom power ring by ali amaro
Blue topaz and 10k gold power ring.
These rings are some of my favorite pieces to create. They usher us through chapter changes, whether a round-number birthday, the beginning of a new career, or the loss of a loved one. A power ring is a reminder to be courageous, to be present amid heartache and triumph, and above all to be true to one's self.

Raw Mozambican blue topaz and sterling silver power ring.
Recently I felt the need for a power ring of my own. Back in Maputo, I was introduced to a Dutch diplomat whose hobby was lapidary work. I went to buy some gems one day, and spotted this incredible blue topaz in his "trash pile," an empty Ricoffy container full of rocks that had been rejected for one reason or another. This particular topaz has an inclusion, or internal flaw, that looks like iridescent water bubbles from the right angle. My diplomat contact had started to facet the stone, but when he discovered the defect he abandoned ship. For me, however, it was pure magic. He gave me the stone for free and I remember thinking that one day I would know how to make it into a ring.

Rough blue topaz in asymmetrical sterling silver setting.
That was before we moved to the Bay. Before I applied to CCA. Before I learned how to solder. Before knowing for sure if this crazy idea to change careers would materialize. Six years later, settled in my new identity as a jeweler and an artist, I finally made that fabulous topaz into a power ring.

And just in time... Now more than ever I need a reminder to find myself, be true to myself, be in the moment, and have no fear of the unknown destiny that lies ahead. Life is a bumpy-ass road sometimes, and there's nothing like a luminous, geologically ancient, perfectly flawed rock on my hand to guide me through the turbulence.

Monday, June 08, 2015


Here's a little behind-the-scenes insight for you all, thoughts about my jewelry and art and business, two years out of school and a year-and-a-half into the gallery:

- I still buy double the materials I need for most custom jewelry projects. I am a firm believer that Murphy is always riding shotgun, and things will go wrong at the most inopportune times. No matter how careful I am with planning and measuring, mistakes happen. Things melt or are cut wrong. Also, the black hole that lurks in all jeweler's studios will swallow up pieces of metal or tiny gemstones that manage to escape our death grip or drop through our inner thighs a nanosecond after we slam them together because something has fallen off the bench. Between the possibility of ruining or losing a critical component, I have to have double materials on hand. Expensive, but I have no regrets.

- For tricky client projects, I make prototypes. Often at my own expense in terms of hours and materials, but I still see myself as such a learner that it makes sense this way, for now. I want to make sure that things will work, materials will behave, that I'm not promising something I can't deliver. I understand the piece so much more after making a prototype. At a certain point, I imagine being comfortable and experienced enough that I don't have to buy double materials and don't have to spend quite so much time in the prototype phase. I think of it as building a knowledge library that I can access in the future. I take really good notes on what I am doing, and what specifically I am learning from not just the prototypes, but all the work I make.

- I make most of my jewelry by fabricating. This means I start "from scratch" using different dimensions of wire and sheet as the building blocks for a finished piece. Occasionally I will make pieces using lost wax casting, where you start with a wax model, make a mold, and then cast in metal. Casting and fabricating have significantly different design and production challenges. Fabricating to me is like miniature engineering. You have to be exceptionally precise and consider the order in which you do things. Casting is more like sculpting a beautiful wax and then following instructions, like baking a cake. To get more pieces, you just "bake" another round. Casting is way more efficient, time and cost wise...but it's the mental and structural challenge of fabricating that really gets me. So a big challenge for my business is that I prefer the slow and expensive but technically brilliant way of working.

- Custom work is what keeps coming to me, which is exciting. I have made some really incredible pieces for people this year. I can't share all of them yet, which is the burden of the jeweler who must keep secrets, but I am very excited and will be able to post photos in the coming weeks.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Angel in the Bay

We had a visit last week from my college best friend Angel and her man João. They live in Houston, he is Portuguese, she is ridícula. :) Angel and I have been friends for 16 years and through thick and thin. I love when she visits because I feel so totally like myself! It was her birthday, and she got engaged, and we all had a great time hanging out.